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Walworth park at the center of things

Heyer Park

John Heyer (click for larger version)
June 12, 2012 | 05:01 PM
If you want to put a label on it, it's a postage stamp of a park — so small it could fit on the corner of most cities without being noticed.

But this park has been at the center of things for many, many years.

It's lived so long that metaphors, serendipities and figures of speech spill from it, even a reference to a children's book.

For instance, if one of the plans for a highway relocation goes through, it'll have a chip off its old block.

Its namesake's middle name is Park, and it's a lot like "The Little House" of children's literature in that it has survived the elements of change around it for decades.

The "it" we speak of is Heyer Park in Walworth.

For ages, the Heyer True Value Hardware and the small park faced each other. A bank looked at the park from the same direction. It was the village square in the old sense of the word, a place where the community's core businesses met.

The park took a human name in 1984 with its dedication as Heyer Park, named after the man who looked after the park for so many years — Edwin Park Heyer. Since Edwin died several years before, it was as though he passed his name on to the park from beyond — a fitting tribute to a park he loved.

Edwin's granddaughter recalls that he liked "playing" in the park.

As a child?

"No," she said, "as an adult."

Edwin was so involved in the park that he eventually became the Walworth Park Commissioner, a position he had held unofficially for years.

Tending to a park might be work to some, but not to Edwin. Tending to a park, this park, sounded like tenderly caring for a loved one.

His son, John Heyer, who happens to live on Park Street, recalls how his father used to visit the store after the store had been passed from father to son.

"He didn't want to interfere in the business," John said. "So pretty soon he'd be in the park."

Sometimes, John said, his father would take one of his workers away to help.

"I'd be looking for my supervisor and I'd see him in the park with my dad."

Sometimes another man emerged from the bank who also tended the park — another suitor for a park that seemed to draw them like a bride with a dowry.

John speaks fondly of his father's legacy and of the role he himself played in creating the fountain that was once in the park's center. Following an automobile accident which destroyed the fountain, a series of public controversies followed about its replacement. But that was a long time ago. Water over the fountain, so to speak. And John would rather not speak of it now.

When the fountain was rebuilt it moved to a corner of the park where it now stands, looking like a teeter-totter with the other end being the rock with a dedication sign.

One thing lost in the transition was the fountain's rotating top which pointed the stone geese different directions depending on the season, whether they should be flying south or north. Now they only know one way to fly, but they're elegant even without a sense of direction.

One day, in mid-May, a few weeks ago, a lone woman sat at one of the four park benches (which are probably a couple too many if the number of benches were based on arrivals and departures —old parks ought to be allowed to have their own measuring sticks).

Back in the day when Edwin Park was patrolling the park, he'd sit down with visitors like this one, welcome them to town and make them feel at home — his second home.

The hardware store eventually left the square. The bank did, too. And, of course, it's main tender and namesake passed as well. But the park remains.

"My dad saw the park as a place where the weary traveler would sit down and relax," John recalled. "He loved a small town."

Whether others saw the park as a living thing is in the eyes of the beholder, but Edwin certainly did, especially when it was full of living things. Surrounded by the bushes he had clipped, the flowers he had planted, he'd sit down with a visitor, feeling at home, and wanting to make the visitor feel the same way.

Oh, as for the chip off the old block, well, if the controversial highway bypass that's planned for Walworth ever comes true, the village's plan would take a tip from the edge of the park, the same edge that holds the fountain.

Like every park, I'm sure there's more to the story. But let's end it here, with Edwin Park sitting down with a traveling stranger.


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